SOME THINGS WE DON’T WANT TO HEAR
There are some things that we’d rather just not hear. When our kids were little, we wanted to know what they were doing if they were over at a friend’s house. Then they got to be teenagers and we were still had the need to know what they were up to. Then around eighteen or nineteen, they became young adults. I remember John, in his early twenties, coming home around midnight and I asked him what he had been doing that evening. He smiled and told me that I really didn’t want to know. After a few moments, I decided that he was probably right.
I came to realize that as long as our kids weren’t driving under the influence or causing someone else pain and suffering, it was none of my business what they were doing on their own time unless they wanted to tell me. If they wanted to tell me, I was all ears. If they didn’t want to tell me, I probably didn’t want to know. And if I’m going to be honest about it, remembering what I was like at that age, I expect my parents thought the same thing about me. Fair enough.
There are somethings that you’d just rather not know. There are somethings that you’d rather not hear. That is true of our kids, our friends and our coworkers. It’s also true of Jesus. He said all kinds that we may not want to hear. In today’s reading from Mark 8, we have an example of that where Jesus says somethings that really upset his disciples.
WHO IS THE SON OF MAN?
Let’s begin at Mark 8:31-32 (NIV) where it says:
Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
In this passage, Jesus is talking about himself. He is the Son of Man. That is one of the titles that he has in the New Testament. He is he Christ. He is the Messiah. He is Emmanuel. He is the Word. He is the Son of God. He is the Son of Man. All of those titles apply to Jesus. In this passage, Jesus is talking about himself.
And what does he say? He says that he, the Son of Man, must suffer many things, be rejected by all of the important people, and that he must be killed but then rise again three days later. Clearly that is not what Peter wants to hear and that is why Peter rebukes him.
To understand this passage, you must first understand the context because context is important. Immediately before this story, Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was. Peter gave the answer in Mark 8:29 (NIV) where he said, “You are the Christ.” Matthew’s version of this story expands this a little bit and has Peter saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
But what does that mean? That’s an important question because it didn’t mean to Peter and the other disciples what it means to us. When we think of Jesus as the Christ, we think of Jesus dying on the cross to pay the price of our sins and then rising from the grave where he defeated sin and death so that all who put their faith in him may be reconciled to God and have eternal life. That’s what we think.
Peter and the other disciples had a very different idea of what the Christ was all about. They saw Jesus not as a spiritual saviour but as a political saviour. There expectation of the Christ was of someone who would free the people from Roman domination and allow them to live freely under their own rule and by their own laws. To do that, Jesus would to have the support of the important people in society: the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law. But Jesus tells the disciples that there are the very people who will reject him. Furthermore, Jesus says that he is going to die.
None of that fits very well with what Peter and the other disciples expect of the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of Man. They don’t want to hear it and Peter tells this to Jesus very plainly.
Let’s read Jesus’ response. In Mark 8:33 (NIV) it says:
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
As angry as Peter was at Jesus, Jesus appears to be even more angry at Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Jesus is right, of course. Peter is looking for the wrong kind of Christ – a political saviour – whereas Jesus is offering something quite different. But to call Peter Satan rather takes it to a whole other level of annoyance. Jesus is clearly making a point.
THE THINGS THAT JESUS SAYS
Jesus, however, is not yet done. What he does next is say a bunch of other things that the disciples don’t want to hear. Let’s listen to them from Mark 8:34-38 (NIV):
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
We read those things 2,000 years later and those are the things that we expect Jesus to say. We know that Jesus taught that we need to deny ourselves. We know that Jesus said that if we want to live, we must give up our lives. We know that it makes no sense to gain the whole world if it means that we forfeit our souls. We know those things because most of us were taught them in Sunday School and youth group and Bible studies.
Not so Jesus’ disciples. This is all new to them. In Jesus, they are expecting someone who will defeat Rome and give the reins of power back to the people. They are expecting a new king, a warrior, a political leader. But what Jesus is offering them is a servant and that is not what they want to hear.
What about us? Are there things that Jesus says that we don’t want to hear? I bet there are? All we have to do is start with what we just read. Are we willing to follow Jesus to the point where we deny ourselves? And take up the cross? What does that even mean? Do we understand it or do we just let it roll off the tongue without thinking about it? I think that a lot of us do that. We love the words but we don’t really put them into practice. We like our comforts, don’t we. We like our big houses and our new cars and our tropical vacations whenever we can do those again. We like nice clothes and fine dining and luxuries galore if we can afford them. And the reality is that we often like them so much that we go into debt to get them, even if we really don’t need them. Jesus says that if we want to follow him that we need to deny ourselves and take up the cross. But we don’t like to hear that. But you might respond with, “Yeah but wasn’t Jesus talking about spiritual things, spiritually deny ourselves and spiritually taking up the cross. Jesus was talking about spiritual things. Correct?” If that makes you feel better than you can read it that way but that’s not what Jesus said. There is nothing in this passage to indicate that he intended us to spiritualize his words. Do we really want to hear what Jesus says?
Jesus also says that whoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever loses their life for him and for the gospel will save it. What about your life? Are you willing to give it up? Are you willing to lose it? That’s something else we really don’t want to hear. But didn’t Jesus give up his life for you. Why should you not be willing to do the same and give up your life for him? But wasn’t Jesus talking spiritually? He doesn’t really want us to die for him, does he? No, I don’t think that Jesus wants us to die because of our faith. But he does want us to be willing to do just that. Fortunately, those of us who live in North America seldom have to contemplate the possibility. Lucky us. Lots of Christians in the world are not so fortunate. Religious persecution is rampant in the world today. Although it’s difficult to put numbers to it, most research indicates that Christians are the most persecuted religious group on the planet with Muslims a close second. We seldom have to be concerned about our lives but that is not true of Christians in China, North Korea, the Philippines and various Middle Eastern countries. In those countries, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ can cost you your freedom and even your life. We don’t want to hear that but that’s what Jesus said could happen. Do we really want to hear what Jesus says?
What else did he say? He said that it makes no sense to gain the whole world yet forfeit your soul. We don’t want to hear that either because the question that it really asks us is what’s your price? Everything in world has a price, doesn’t it? What’s yours? What can the world offer you that will cause you to turn away from Jesus? For lots of people, it’s money. Give someone enough money and they can buy anything they want and when they can buy anything they want, who needs Jesus? For others it’s power. People will sell souls for power. Look at what politicians do and say to stay in power. And that’s true across all party lines, I’m not leaning left or right here. I once heard it said that the first goal of a politician is to get elected. The second goal is to get re-elected. All other goals come after those. And while I don’t that applies to all people who run for public office, it seems that the higher up they go, the more it applies. Maybe you’re not a politician but people act the same way in smaller institutions, even the church. People carve out their little empires and try to control everything and everyone else. And sometimes they are very successful at it. But what good is it to gain the whole world if it means that you lose your soul. Jesus said that. Do we really want to hear what Jesus says?
This is the season of Lent as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter. Jesus’ words challenge us during this time. That’s possibly why they are sometimes hard to hear. But that’s actually a good thing because if Jesus’ words are not challenging then what good are they? If Jesus word are just echoes of popular culture that then what’s the point. Jesus never was someone who went with the flow. Remember that he said that he would be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law. That’s because they didn’t want to hear what he had to say. They represented the popular culture of the day but Jesus was counter cultural. And he still is.
Jesus says some interesting topics such as money, servanthood, sexuality, forgiveness and humility. Many of those things that Jesus are contrary to the prevailing viewpoints that we hear today. A good question for Lent is this: Who do we follow? Jesus or the world? It’s so much easier just to buy into media pressure and cave to the world. That’s the easy road. But Jesus never said that following him would be easy. He said that if someone wants to follow him, that person must deny themselves and pick up a cross. The implication, of course, is that there is a cost to following Jesus. There is a cost to faithfulness. There is a price to be paid for listening to the words of Jesus that the world does not want us to hear.
That is true of us as individuals. It also true of the body of Christ that we call the church. We are at a place in history where the church needs to open its ears to Jesus’ words. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of churches that already do that; they are attuned to the gospel message. But there are a lot of churches – in fact, whole denominations – that need to repent. That’s because they have watered down the gospel message to the point that there is no discernible difference between what we hear from the pulpit and what we hear on CBC and CNN.
Not that CBC and CNN are always wrong. I’m not saying that but it is not the news media’s role to inform the church about what is important in this world. It is the church’s role to inform the news media about what Jesus said and how to apply those teachings to the issues of the day. Too often, we get that mixed up and when we do, it becomes increasingly difficult to hear Jesus’ words.
We need to think about that during Lent. We need to think about how our opinions are formed and how faith impacts our decisions and our lifestyles. Jesus words are challenging. They should be challenging because if they aren’t challenging then what’s the point?
Jesus words are true. They inform us about who we are and how we are to faithfully live in this world together. But hearing those words and following them may come with a cost. Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow him, that person must deny themselves and pick up the cross. It may be hard to hear those worlds but they are also the very ones that we need to hear.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Blessed are you, Gracious God, Creator of Light, Giver of Life, Source of Love. You guide the sun, cradle the moon, and toss the stars. At your word, the earth was made and spun on its course among the planets. You breathe life into us and set us among all your Creation in a covenant of love and service.
O God of Peace, we praise you for your love revealed to us in Jesus. He journeys with us as our Wisdom and our Way, sharing our joys and sorrows, healing the sick, feeding the hungry and setting the captive free. He walks among us and leads us down the path that you, in faith and caring, have set before our feet.
We thank you, O God, for the passion with which you come to us. In the acts of Creation and Cross you have shown your love in immeasurable ways. In the Spirit, you continue to live around and within, filling us with life and wonder. In our inadequacy, help us to sense your mystery and feel your presence. Give to us the passion that we need to do your work with joy and faithfulness all of our days.
We pray, this morning for the sick of our congregation and community. Comfort and heal them with the touch of your indwelling Spirit. During this season of Covid-19 continue to ask your blessing up those who are suffering, their families and the caregivers who seek to bring your healing Spirit into their lives.
We lift our prayers to you who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Enable us to discover the ministries that have been placed before us. Give us the courage not to shirk from our duties. Give us the wisdom to know what to do. And the love to do your will with compassion, gentleness and grace.
All of this, with praise and thanksgiving, we pray to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 28, 2021 / Lent 2
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; John 2:13-22; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: The heavens declare the glory of God;
ALL: the earth proclaims Christ’s faithfulness.
ONE: God looks upon creation from the throne of grace;
ALL: and guides us into the way of peace.
ONE: We come, as servants, to worship our Creator;
ALL: We come to honour Jesus who gives us life.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Your glory fills the sky, O God, and the heavens declare your glory. Glory to you, who made all things. Glory to you, who makes all new things possible. Glory to you, who looks upon us and cares what happens to each and every one of us. Glory to you, who lifts us above our sinfulness and places us upon the rock solid ground of faith. Glory to you, God of love and compassion. Only you can hear our prayers. Only you can see our worship. Only you can, in love, answer us when we call upon your name. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We call to you in the midst of Lent. We seek in this time, O God, to draw closer to you and to discern your will in our lives. We have fallen short of your glory. We have failed to live with the faithfulness that you have set before us. Like our ancestors, we have turned our backs and run from your call, forgetting your promise to provide for our every need. Forgive us, O God, when we fail to follow. It is only by your mercy that we are healed. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The joy of faith is that wherever we walk, we have the assurance of God’s love and presence with us. Even when we journey into sin, God is there to lead us back on the path of righteousness and bring us peace and reconciliation. Thanks be to the Christ for the amazing and gracious gift of life.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
All that we have and all that we are is symbolized by these, our gifts. Give us the courage, the wisdom and the insight to use them wisely, not only this portion but all that we have. We offer ourselves for your work and glory, in Jesus’ name.
We have worshipped and given glory to God. As we leave, may our praise continue. May our worship enter into every aspect of our lives that we may live in prayer and faithfulness every moment of every day. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.